Brain Cap Allows Locked-in Patients to Communicate
A recent study on four patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (locked-in syndrome), a disease in which the brain loses its ability to control muscles, has shown promising results in regards to returning their ability to communicate. The new procedure uses a kind of cap that measures blood oxygen levels and electrical activity in the brain to 'read the thoughts' of the patients, and allow them to answer yes or no questions.
The study challenges the idea that those suffering from locked-in syndrome no longer possess the goal-oriented thinking necessary to use a brain-computer interface.
"The striking results overturn my own theory that people with completely locked-in syndrome are not capable of communication," said Professor Niels Birbaumer, from the Wyss Centre for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva. "If we can replicate this study in more patients, I believe we could restore useful communication in completely locked-in states for people with motor neuron diseases."
The study elicited correct responses in 70 percent of its trial sessions, and the researchers involved are optimistic that it might lead to greater breakthroughs in the future.
"Restoring communication for completely locked-in patients is a crucial first step in the challenge to regain movement," said Professor John Donoghue, director of the Wyss Centre. "The Wyss Center plans to build on the results of this study to develop clinically useful technology that will be available to people with paralysis resulting from ALS, stroke, or spinal cord injury. The technology used in the study also has broader applications that we believe could be further developed to treat and monitor people with a wide range of neuro-disorders."